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Entrepreneurs in Training

entrepreneurs haruka

Art Credit: Gisela Francisco

A new group of promising female entrepreneurs are in town—and they haven’t even graduated high school yet.

Business guru, Nathalie Molina Niño, launched her first startup at age 20, and has now created a training program to help young women do the same. On July 7th—together with Barnard’s Office of Pre-College Programs in NYC—Nathalie launched the Entrepreneurs in Training program as part of Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies entrepreneurship mission.

During the ten-day program, seventeen high-school students— selected through a rigorous application process—make real-world discoveries of what it means to be a female entrepreneur today. For many of these young women, this program is their very first exposure to the dynamics of entrepreneurship. Seventeen-year-old Olivia Cochran of Shady Side Academy in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania once thought being an entrepreneur was just someone who was involved in business, like the president of a company:

“But now I realize how much work goes into developing a product, defining it, who your audience is, your market, and even investing. I had no clue. As high-school students, we aren’t taught about financing our ideas. It’s helpful to know this about business in the real world.”

On day 1, each girl came up her own product idea. Then they were divided into small groups based on their ideas. Olivia’s original idea was an app to find public parking. Olivia explains that the idea they’re working on now was actually her teammate’s idea:

“It’s a setting for smartphones called CoPilot. It helps protect people and their friends from texting while driving by showing a blue car icon on the contacts and messages list to alert you if your friend is on the road. If you text someone, a popup asks if you’re sure you want to text even though drivers are 23 times more likely to crash while texting. You’re then given 3 options: continue the text, cancel it, or call the person. iPhones and Androids already have motion-sensor apps for movement over 10 or 20 miles per hour which we hope to sync with our app.”

The program defines entrepreneurship primarily as an opportunity to create products and services to help people in a positive way. Program instructors inspire the girls to understand what this really means for young people thinking about taking the entrepreneurial route in college. Olivia reveals that her product is an especially relevant service to teenagers like herself.

“Especially as a teenager who just got her license,” Olivia points out, “there had to be an app out there that friends could use to prevent accidents. It takes two to tango. We thought our product was special because it’s both you and your friend helping to keep one another safe. That’s how we came up with the name CoPilot.”

At the moment, CoPilot hasn’t been programmed yet. “We’re just working on defining our product—which, for many companies, can take months. Then we make a big pitch and talk to investors who give us feedback. Then we can move forward with the idea if we like,” says Olivia.

The pitch panel includes 10 people who range from a personal finance expert to an advisor to early stage companies—they’re all involved in the startup world. Olivia confides, “The nerves will probably hit me right before we go on. The only business pitches I’ve ever seen are on that TV show Shark Tank. So I’m excited to see what it will be like.”

Her teammates, Leda Livada Japundžić and Aisling Crispi, both sixteen, are from Croatia and NYC respectively. Olivia hopes they’ll keep in touch and move forward with their idea after the program has ended. “I think we have a good toolkit now. I have contacts who I won’t be afraid to connect with if I have questions.”

Other product pitches that have sprung from this program include PillowBook, a social networking site for teens in hospitals, and SparkPlug, an online website that helps startup entrepreneurs connect with potential clients in their local community.

While Entrepreneurs in Training is one of the few programs of its kind, we hope to see more female leaders in the entrepreneurial world mentoring young women to recognize their skills as entrepreneurs. Olivia soon realized that mediation and team work are essential skills in any kind of entrepreneurial endeavor:

“You see the brainpower. You see the one who talks to everybody. It’s a really neat process to see everyone collaborating together. Within my team, I’ve learned how to adapt because it wasn’t my idea originally. You couldn’t be annoyed that your idea wasn’t chosen or just think it wasn’t good enough. You have to learn to negotiate, to find a middle ground that we both agree on. These are important skills to have. You sometimes need to take ideas, make them your own and truly love them.”

Like Nathalie Molina Niño, Olivia and the other young women in this program have found that they have what it takes to be successful entrepreneurs—whether being a good listener, having good ideas, or being an effective negotiator. That’s one pitch we can definitely buy.

(Photo by Gisela Francisco)